BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Agents from the FBI’s Buffalo field office have arrested Paul Lubienecki in connection to a death threat made against 7 Eyewitness News investigative reporter Charlie Specht.
Lubienecki appeared in federal court in downtown Buffalo on Wednesday afternoon; he was charged with cyberstalking. He is an adjunct professor at Christ the King Seminary and is listed as an adjunct lecturer in the SUNY Fredonia faculty directory. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Specht, who has won state and national awards for his investigations of the Diocese of Buffalo, had been receiving harassing voicemails from a threatening caller for nearly six months.
Before calling Specht’s cell phone and leaving threatening messages, the caller blocked his number, so the caller’s identity was unknown to Specht and 7 Eyewitness News until charges were filed today.
The voicemails began in August 2019, just as the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team reported on scandals at Christ the King Seminary, where multiple seminarians quit the seminary because of alleged abuse and corruption in the diocese.
The messages referenced members of Specht’s family and urged Specht to stop his reporting on the diocese.
“You’re still a bad Catholic and a horrible reporter,” one voicemail warned. “I hope to God I don’t see you walking around.”
Instead, the I-Team’s pace of reporting increased, with the publishing of “The Malone Recordings” in September, a Vatican investigation of the diocese in October and Bishop Malone’s resignation in early December.
On Dec. 4, the day Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned, the caller contacted Specht and later contacted two of his main sources -- whistleblowers Siobhan O’Connor and Fr. Ryszard Biernat -- and left emotional messages.
“You destroyed the Diocese of Buffalo and Bishop Malone,” the caller warned Specht. “I'm gonna destroy your career."
The next day, the caller said to O’Connor in a voicemail, “I love the bishop. Now you got rid of him. I hope you burn in hell.”
To Biernat -- who in September revealed recordings that showed Malone concealed sexual harassment allegations against a diocesan priest -- the caller left a message stating, “You destroyed a good bishop, a good man. Leave the priesthood . . . We’ll get ya.”
7 Eyewitness News reached out to law enforcement months ago when the messages began, but prosecutors needed more information about who was making the calls, as well as an example of a specific threat.
That specific threat came last week.
On February 4, hours after the diocese announced the closure of Christ the King Seminary, Specht gave a live report from Christ the King Seminary. Moments later, the caller left a voicemail.
“You must be so happy the seminary’s closing. You’re a bad person. I know where you live...I’m gonna find you. I’m gonna kill you.”
Specht called the police and within hours, 7 Eyewitness News’ parent company, the E.W. Scripps Co., made plans for Specht, his wife and children to leave their home and spend much of the next week living at an undisclosed location with around-the-clock protection from a private security firm.
Prosecutors from the office of U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy then opened a case, assigning an agent from the FBI Buffalo Field Office to investigate.
“We were shocked, surprised and scared,” Specht said. “I got the feeling that this one person -- whoever they were -- had spent months harassing me about really personal things, and was now threatening violence. I wanted my family to be safe. We put our trust in law enforcement to find out who was doing this.”
Within days, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango and FBI Agent Randall Garver obtained records that revealed the identity of the alleged perpetrator. Specht did not learn that identity until agents arrested the man earlier today and prosecutors filed a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court.
“We are grateful that federal prosecutors and the FBI made this a priority,” Specht said. “Criticism of news reporting is acceptable and even welcomed. But making personal threats against a reporter for simply doing his job goes against the entire American belief in a free press.”
Lubienecki had no comment as he left the courthouse late Wednesday afternoon.
"Do you have anything to say about the cyberstalking charge?" asked 7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley. "You can’t get near me - you know that?", responded Lubienecki. "Why would you make a threat to to somebody, especially to kill them. Isn’t that against the teaching of the catholic faith?" questioned Buckley.
The U.S. Attorney held a joint news conference with the FBI following Lubienecki's court appearance.
"This is a cyberstalking crime which has been charged here, which is opposed to the more traditional threat case, which involves a difference statue, but certainly take these type of things very seriously," stated J.P. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney, Western District. "Place a person under a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury or attempts to what would reasonably be expected to be substantial emotional stress to that person or their family and that is a violation of federal law.”
Buffalo's FBI Special Agent in Charge, Gary Loeffert, also spoke about the charges.
"The arrest of Mr. Lubienecki Is further proof we will not allow people to use threats of violence to voice their option or amplify their message," remarked Loeffert.
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, Buffalo’s Apostolic Administrator of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese addressed the arrest with a series of tweets Thursday morning.